NFL Gameday: Week 4

Mike Rutsey, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 PM ET

MUST WIN SUNDAY

There are four teams that sit at 0-3 — St. Louis, Minnesota, Kansas City and Indy — and all of them are desperate for a victory.

I didn’t throw a dart into that foursome to pick out the winner of the must-win category — but I could have.

However, I settled on the St. Louis Rams, as of the four teams, they were the one that entered the season with the highest of hopes, of winning the NFC West. OK, the Chiefs are the defending champs in the AFC West but pretty well everybody figured that was a glitch and that the San Diego Chargers would regain their rightful spot atop that division.

In the NFC West, though, of the four teams the Rams were thought to be the one that would make the biggest strides, that had the highest ceiling. Instead, the Rams looked as if they have regressed, despite the addition of Josh McDaniels as their offensive coordinator.

The schedule has not been the Rams’ best friend either as they had three tough games to start going against the Eagles at home, on the road against the Giants and home to the Ravens. In the first two losses, the Rams looked respectable — but in last week’s 37-7 drubbing at home they were never in the game.

Now they have their third home game of the season against the Washington Redskins, who are a surprising 2-1. Still, the Redskins look to be the weakest opponent to date and the Rams need this one desperately. Following this game they get a bye week, then it is road games against Green Bay and Dallas followed by a home game against the Saints. They don’t want to start 0-7.

THREE GAMES TO WATCH

Dallas-Detroit

This marks the first real test for a young Lions team that has gone 3-0 for the first time since 1980. The Lions have scored a road win against Tampa Bay, slaughtered the Chiefs at home and then last week pulled one out of the fire with their big second-half comeback against Minnesota. Now they are on the road against a Dallas team that will be better offensively than any team they have faced. The key for Detroit is keeping Dallas sack king DeMarcus Ware off QB Matthew Stafford. The 2-1 Cowboys will be led by the heroic Tony Romo, the rib king.

New England-Oakland

These are two teams that can meet before the game and ask each other: ‘Can you believe those Buffalo Bills?’ Both of these teams have shown they can move the chains and roll up the points. The Patriots have it going in a big way through the air on the strength of Tom Brady while the Raiders can churn it on the ground via Darren McFadden. The 2-1 Raiders are looking to prove that last week’s convincing home victory over the Jets was no fluke. A win here and they will be viewed as the real deal.

N.Y. Jets-Baltimore

Speaking of the Jets, this is a tough spot for them to show a bounce back after last week’s loss in Oakland. The Ravens return home after two road games where they went 1-1. In their 37-7 rout of the St. Louis Rams, the Ravens discovered rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith who caught his first five passes of the year, three of them for touchdowns. The Jets vaunted run defence was shredded last week and now they have to stop the Ravens RB Ray Rice.

HEAD-TO-HEAD MATCHUPS

Texans CB Johnathan Joseph vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace

This is a big game for both teams and features two of the heavyweights. The Steelers are misfiring on both sides of the ball while the Texans dropped a key contest to the Saints. Mike Wallace has been the No. 1 target of Big Ben over their opening three games as he has 21 receptions for 377 yards and two touchdowns. He also is on a run of having six consecutive games where he has registered 100 yards in receptions. Joseph, meanwhile, has made interceptions in each of the past two games.

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs vs. the New York Jets Offensive Line

With apologies to Ray Lewis fans, Suggs has become the biggest playmaker on the Ravens defence. The outside rush linebacker in three games has 11 unassisted tackles, four sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles and two pass deflections. He is a hard package to stop and will be harassing Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez all night. This game he might see action on the other side of the ball as he has been practising as the fullback in the ‘Suggs Package’. It could be a big night.

Raiders RB Darren McFadden vs. the Patriots Front Seven

McFadden was simply sensational in last week’s upset of the Jets where he ran for 171 yards on 19 carries and scored two TDs. On the season McFadden has 393 yards on 61 carries for a sparkling 6.4-yard average. The Patriots defence, meanwhile, have not been able to stop anybody and the team is 2-1 strictly on the strength of Tom Brady’s right arm. Overall, the Pats are dead last in overall defence but rank 10th against the run, allowing 91.7 yards per game.

BY THE NUMBERS

10 - The number of consecutive wins the Buffalo Bills have piled up against the Cincinnati Bengals.

54 - The number of yards rushing needed by Bengals running back Cedric Benson (below) to reach 5,000 in his career.

2 - The number of times Oakland quarterback Jason Campbell has been sacked this season.

67-6 - The points differential against the Minnesota Vikings in the second half of their three losses. They have allowed 67 points and scored six.

1 - The number of turnovers registered by the Steelers defence this season.

ENCORE, ENCORE?

Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders

Right now there is no better running back in the league than McFadden. Last week against the Jets, McFadden was the main reason that Oakland came out on top as he rushed for 171 yards on 19 carries and scored two TDs. Now he goes up against the Patriots whose defence hasn’t been able to stop anybody.

Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore Ravens

Last week against St. Louis was like a dream coming true for Ravens rookie Smith (pictured below). In his first two games he hadn’t caught a pass then — BAM! — he scores TDs on the first three receptions of his career. On the day he caught five passes for 152 yards and the three TDs. But he may find it tougher against the Jets secondary.

Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots

Welker is having simply a terrific season, from his 99-yard TD reception in the season opener to last week’s game against the Bills when in defeat he had 16 receptions and 217 yards — both career highs — to go along with two TDs. With 31 receptions after three games, he is on a record clip.

BE A SURVIVOR

Another shutout last week, another 3-0 day of surviving dodge ball. It’s tough to be perfect and tougher yet to stay humble. My pick in my pool is a no-brainer for probably 80% of those who have survived the opening three weeks. Green Bay at home against Denver. It’s the Pack, baby. Denver is a team you would never put your money on while the Packers are money at Lambeau Field. On Monday night, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are at home for the first time in a while on Monday Night Football — so they should be pumped up going up against the 0-3 Indianapolis Colts. The only thing that can stop the Bucs is a letdown after beating the Falcons. It could be a trap game. You have to also like the Chicago Bears at home against Carolina. It’s going to get tougher for Cam Newton, not easier.


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